« ПредишнаНапред »
by misfortune, and follow it with keen perseverance, until the loss of life has rendered it their prey. A poor old emaciated horse or ox, the deer mired on the margin of the lake, where the timid animal has resorted to escape flies and musquitoes so fatiguing in summer, is seen in distress with exultation by the buzzard. He immediately alights, and if the animal does not extricate itself, waits and gorges in peace on as much of the flesh as the nature of the spot will allow. They do more, they often watch the young kid, the lamb, and the pig issuing from the mother's womb, and attack it with direful success; yet, notwithstanding this, they frequently pass over a healthy horse, hog, or other animal, lying, as if dead, basking in the sunshine, without even altering their course in the least. Judge then, my dear Sir, how well they must see.
Opportunities of devouring young living animals are so very frequent around large plantations in this country, that to deny
them would be ridiculous, although I have heard it attempted by European writers.
During the terrifying inundations of the Mississippi, I have very frequently seen many of those birds alight on the dead floating bodies of animals, drowned by the water in the low lands, and washed by the current, gorging themselves at the expence of the Squatter, who often loses the greater portion of his wandering flocks on such occasions.
Dastardly with all, and such cowards are they, that our smaller hawks can drive them off any place; the little king bird proves, indeed, a tyrant whenever he espies the large marauder sailing about the spot where his dearest mate is all intent on incubation; and the eagle, if hungry, will chace him, force him to disgorge his food in a moment, and to leave it at his disposal.
Many of those birds accustomed, by the privileges granted them by law, of remaining about the cities and villages in our southern states, seldom leave them, and might almost be called a second set, differing widely in habits from those that reside constantly at a distance from these places. Accustomed to be fed, they are still more lazy; their appearance exhibits all the nonchalance belonging to the garrisoned half paid soldier. To move is for them a hardship, and nothing but extreme hunger will
make them fly down from the roof of the kitchen into the yard, or follow the vehicles employed in clearing the streets from disagreeable substances, except where (at Natchez for instance) the number of these expecting parasites is so great, that all the refuse of the town, within their reach, is insufficient; then they are seen following the scavengers' carts, hopping, flying and alighting all about it, amongst grunting hogs and snarling dogs, until the contents, having reached a place of destination outside the suburbs, are emptied and swallowed by them.
Whilst taking a view of that city from her lower ancient fort, I have for several days seen exhibitions of this kind.
I do not think that the vultures thus attached to the cities are so much inclined to multiply as those more constantly resident in the forests, perceiving no diminution of number during the breeding season, and having remarked that many individuals, known to me by particular marks made on them, and a special cast of countenance, were positively constantly residents of the town. The Vultur aura is by no means so numerous as the attratus. I have seldom seen more than twenty-five or thirty together ; where, on the contrary, the latter are frequently associated to the number of an hundred.
The Vultur aura is a more retired bird in habits, and more inclined to feed on dead game, snakes, lizards, frogs, and the dead fish that frequently are found about the sand-flats of rivers and borders of the sea-shore; is more cleanly in its appearance, and, as you will see by the difference in the drawings of both species, a neater and better formed bird. Its flight is also vastly superior in swiftness and elegance, needing but a few flaps of its large wings to raise itself from the ground; after which it will sail for miles, by merely turning either on one side or the other, , and using his tail so slowly, to alter his course, that a person
looking at him, whilst elevated and sailing, would be inclined to compare it to a machine fit to perform just a certain description of evolutions. The noise made by the vultures through the air as they glide obliquely towards the earth, is often as great as that of our largest hawks when falling on their prey; but they never reach the ground in this manner, always checking when about 100 yards high, and going several rounds, to examine well the spot they are about to alight on. The Vultur aura
cannot bear cold weather well; the few who, during the heat of the summer, extend their excursions to the middle or northern States, generally all return at the approach of winter; and I believe also, that very few of these birds breed eastward of the Pine Swamps of West Jersey. They are much attached to particular roosting trees, and I know will come to them every night from a great distance; on alighting on these, each of them, anxious for a choice of place, creates always a general disturbance, and often, when quite dark, their hissing noise is heard in token of this inclination for supremacy. These roosting trees of the buzzards are generally in deep swamps, and mostly high dead cypresses; frequently, however, they roost with the carrion-crows (Vultur atratus), and then it is on the largest dead timber of our fields, not unfrequently close to the houses. Sometimes also this bird will roost close to the body of a thickleaved tree; in such position I have killed several, when hunting wild turkeys by moonlight nights, and mistaking them for these latter birds.
In Mississippi, Louisiania, Georgia and Carolina, they prepare to breed early in the month of February, in common with almost all the genus Falco. The most remarkable habit attached to their life is now to be seen ; they assemble in parties of eight or ten, sometimes more, on large fallen logs, males and females exhibiting the strongest desire to please mutually, and forming attachments by the choice of a mate by each male, that, after many caresses, leads her off on the wing from the group, neither to mix or associate with any more, until their offspring are well able to follow them in the air; after that, and until incubation takes place (about two weeks), they are seen sailing side by side the whole day.
These birds form no nest, yet are very choice respecting the place of deposit for their two eggs. Deep in the swamps, but always above the line of overflowing water mark, a large hollowed tree is sought, either standing or fallen, and the eggs are dropped on the mouldy particles inside. Sometimes immediately near the entrance : at other times as much as twenty feet in. Both birds incubate alternately; and both feed each other whilst sitting, by disgorging the contents of the stomach, or part of them, immediately close before the bird that is sitting. Thirty
two days are needed to bring forth the young from the shell, - thick down covers them completely,—the parents at that early period, and indeed for nearly two weeks, feed them, by gorging food considerably digested in their bill, in the manner of the common pigeons ;—the down acquires length; becomes thinner, and of a deeper tint as the bird grows older. The young vultures at three weeks are large for their age, weighing then upwards of a pound, but extremely clumsy and inactive; unable to keep up their wings, then partly covered by large pen feathers, drag them almost to the ground, bearing their whole weight on the full length of their legs and feet.
If approached at that time by a stranger or enemy, they hiss with a noise resembling that made by a strangling cat or fox, swell themselves, and hop side-ways as fast as in their power.
The parents whilst sitting, and equally disturbed, act in the same manner—fly only a very short distance, waiting there the departure of the offender to reassume their duty. As the young grows larger, the parents throw their food merely before them, and, with all their exertions, seldom bring their offspring fat to the field. Their nests become so fetid before the final departure of the young birds, that a person forced to remain there half an hour must almost be suffocated.
I have been frequently told that the same pair will not abandon their first nests or place of deposit, unless broken up during incubation. This would attach to the vulture a constancy of affection that I cannot believe exists, as I do not believe that pairing in the manner described is of any longer duration than the necessitous call of nature for the one season; and, again, were they so inclined, they would never congregate in the manner they do, but would go in single pairs all their lives like eagles.
Vultures do not possess in any degree the power of bearing off their prey as falcons do, unless it be slender portions of entrails hanging by the bill.
When chased by others from a carcase, it even renders them very awkward in their flight, and forces them to the earth again almost immediately.
Many persons in Europe believe that buzzards prefer putrid flesh to any other. This is a mistake. Any flesh that they can at once tear with their very powerful bill in pieces, is swallowed,
no matter how fresh. What I have said of their killing and devouring young animals, are sufficient proofs of this ; but it frequently happens that these birds are forced to wait until the hide of their prey will give way to the bill. I have seen a large dead alligator, surrounded by vultures and carrion crows, of which nearly the whole of the flesh was so completely decomposed before these birds could perforate the tough skin of the monster, that, when at last it took place, their disappointment was apparent, and the matter, in an almost fluid state, abandoned by the vultures.
It was my intention to give you further details respecting this bird in the present letter, particularly of the anatomical structure of its head and stomach, wherein I have had the pleasure of meeting corroborating evidence, through the observations made on the same by a learned anatomist of this city, Dr Knox. My time, however, is at present quite limited; but I will very soon resume the subject with great pleasure.
List of Rare Plants which have Flowered in the Royal Botanic
Garden, Edinburgh, during the last three months ; with Descriptions of several New Plants. Communicated by Dr GRAHAM.
10th December 1826. Aralia spinosa This plant has stood on the open wall three winters, protected partially
with broom twigs, but never flowered till the beginning of November
last, having nearly reached the top of a wall fourteen feet high. Asplenium flabellifolium. Aster pulcherrimus. Banksia integrifolia. Begonia undulata. B. undulata ; fruticosa; foliis inæqualiter cordatis, undulatis, integerrimis,
glabris, nitidis ; capsulæ alis rotundatis æqualibus. DESCRIPTION.-Stem erect, turgid below, tapering upwards, annular ;
when young slightly hispid, green, and having numerous small, oblong white spots; when older smooth, and of a reddish-grey colour ; branched, branches axillary and alternate. Leaves petioled, alternate, distichous, unequally cordate, smooth and shining, undulate, acuminate, full green on the upper surface, paler and minutely dotted below, 3 inches long; edges occasionally reddish, especially when young, callous, quite entire, but having a dot, like an obsolete tooth, at the termination of each vein;